Mina was quiet.
Every morning, she liked to tuck herself into the corner of their farmhouse kitchen and watch her family storm through: Papa singing off-key as he poured sugar into the pot of oats, Mother yelling at him to add less sugar, Papa yelling back cheerfully that he could add more but not less because he was just that sweet, her older brother, Gaton, stomping in to say he couldn’t find his socks, Papa joking that he’d added them to the morning oats, and the twins waddling in with Gaton’s socks on their hands like puppets.
And every morning, after her family had whirled tornado-like into the kitchen, Papa would bellow, “Mina! Mina? Is Mina awake? Anyone seen Mina?”
Giggling, the twins would wave their sock puppets at the corner where she perched quietly on her favorite chair.
He’d clap his hands to his bearded cheeks dramatically, making the twins giggle even harder. “I thought that was a shadow! No one eats until my little shadow eats.” And then Papa would scoop the biggest, sugariest, best scoop of oatmeal into a bowl and give it to Mina before Gaton could inhale the rest and before the twins could spill any of it on the floor.
“Love you, Papa,” she’d say.
“Love you, Mina,” he’d say, and wink.
She’d always been quiet. She’d been born without a cry on a peaceful night when the stars over their family farm sparkled brighter than usual, or so her mother liked to say. Mina didn’t think that was very likely. She’d been in the next room when the twins were born, and she knew babies were not quiet. Ever. Even when they slept, they made cute, gurgling chirps. But she let Mother tell the story how she wanted. It was probably close enough to true.
Most mornings, Mina would eat in her favorite corner and listen to her family chatter and laugh. She liked the way the sounds flowed around her. It felt warm, as though her family were tucking a cozy blanket of babble around her, and she loved that they never pushed her to add to the noise.
But this morning, Mina had news.
So she finished her oats, carried her bowl to the sink, and stood in front of the table. This was unusual enough that Mother shushed Gaton, the twins quit smearing their breakfast on their cheeks, and Papa scraped his chair across the wood floor as he turned to look at her.
She liked to think this was one of the secrets about being quiet: when you finally speak, everyone assumes you have something important to say. And I do, she thought.
“I think my egg is going to hatch soon,” Mina said.
It was as if she’d dropped a teaspoon of water into a skillet of boiling oil. Everyone popped up and began jabbering at once. From Mother: “Are you sure?” From Gaton: “Are you nervous? Don’t be nervous!” From the twins: “Yay! Yay! Yay, Mina!” From Papa: “We’re so proud of you!”
She grinned at them all.
Mina had a storm-beast egg. One in four kids in Alorria was awarded care of one of the country’s precious eggs and tasked with bonding to the unborn creature. For two years, she had devoted three hours a day to her egg, being sure to touch its shell so the growing beast could absorb her thoughts and feelings. If she’d done this correctly, then when it hatched, it would come out as a perfect match for her, and they’d be bonded mind-to-mind and heart-to-heart. She’d be its storm guardian, and it would be her storm beast.
Storm beasts and their guardians were responsible for making Alorria as perfect as it was. Every day in Alorria, you woke to a blue sky. You felt warm air and a soft breeze. Sometimes you saw a rainbow, but only when the farmers asked for rain on their fields. Wind gusted over the sea, but only when the sailors needed it to sail their boats. Snow fell on the mountain peaks, but never below the tree line. Lightning never struck the ground and was instead harvested from the clouds to power the city’s magnificent machines. And there had never been a tornado or a hurricane. All thanks to the storm beasts and their guardians.
Soon I’ll be one of them, a real storm guardian! Just thinking that made Mina want to do a little dance. Quietly, of course. She’d been anticipating this day for two years. Longer, really. Long before Gaton got his egg, as soon as Mina had been old enough to read stories about storm guardians, she’d wanted to be one of them—?to be out there, making the world more wonderful.
She felt as if she’d been waiting for this all twelve years of her life.
“She’s going to hatch a sun beast,” Gaton declared. He pounded his fist on the breakfast table for emphasis. The bowls rattled, causing the twins to giggle again.
“Are you willing to bet on that?” Mother asked, a twinkle in her eye. “Three weeks of cleaning the chicken coop without complaining if I win?”
“And three weeks of not milking the goats if I win,” Gaton countered.
“Deal.” Mother held out her hand.
“Deal!” Gaton said. They shook to seal the bet.
Maybe I shouldn’t hope for a sun beast, just to see Gaton clean the coop. Mina made a soft clucking sound, which one of the twins, Rinna, immediately imitated, twice as loud.
“Mina isn’t half as lazy as you are,” Mother teased Gaton, as soon as they’d shaken. “She’ll hatch a rain beast for certain.”
The other twin, Beon, clapped his pudgy hands. “Wind beast! Wind! Wind!”
All of them turned to study Mina, and Mina tried to not squirm under their gazes. She didn’t like being stared at, even by her family. Even if it was kindly meant, it made her feel like a bug about to be squished. Sensing her discomfort, Beon wrapped his arms around her leg and squeezed. Mina ruffled his hair in thanks.
“Not wind,” Papa said thoughtfully. “She’s too steady.”
“Exactly!” Gaton said. “She’s dependable. Her beast will be a sun beast.”
I do want a sun beast. Sun beasts and their guardians were responsible for maintaining the endless summery temperature in Alorria and for beaming any excess sunlight onto crops to make them grow faster. Gaton had hatched a sun beast three years ago. His beast’s power would be fading soon—?once a storm beast finished growing to full size, it lost its ability to control the weather—?and he’d said several times that he wanted his little sister to take over his work in the local fields.